The World Is Our Storefront
“Word of mouth” has taken on new meaning with the proliferation and ubiquity of digital mediums and social influence in our daily lives. Commerce no longer expressly implies a shopping destination — it’s tied to practically everything these days. With digital putting shoppers in the driver’s seat, the once dominant ideas of “store hours” and “design seasons” have faded to the background. Today, consumers expect service on their terms, but more importantly, in context. Quite literally, the world is our storefront.
While we may still go visit our favorite brick and mortar shops, consider a few modern scenarios. An 18-year-old student sees the #PumaHoodie @badgirlriri on Instagram and adds it to her wish list. An urban professional notices the Warby Parkers as a gentleman exits a bus; he then Googles the style in hopes of ordering a pair for himself. A music aficionado’s first brush with a favorite artist’s latest effort comes by way of the single trending on Spotify.
These are all unique scenarios that are tailored and product-appropriate. So in order for brands to remain relevant, it’s important to understand how today’s consumers first discover and then engage with them.
And much like the “word of mouth” maxim, brands need to stay keenly mindful of what they elementally stand for and who their core audience is in this all-access environment. Because ultimately, staying true to your values informs the best way to reach your audience. The value point may seem obvious, but it’s a clear-sighted one: Brands have distinct values that attract specific audiences — and in turn, shape brand experiences. By standing with your values, your brand will naturally attract customers who share them. Increasingly, people patronize brands not just due to their core product or service, but based on what they stand for.
And this isn’t a trend, it’s a movement — a movement that will continue to gain momentum, so stick to your guns and stand for something worth following.
Add to that the shift of consumers looking beyond a core product or service and instead gravitating towards brands that offer polished, cohesive brand experiences. These elevated brand experiences can take many expressions, from personalized in-store service, to a mobile app that gives customers better options, to a handwritten note thanking a customer accompanying their purchase.
So, brand values and experiences are inextricably linked, and how they manifest themselves can make the pivotal difference.
Recently, outdoor outfitter REI boycotted the shopping frenzy that is Black Friday by closing all of their stores on that very lucrative day for retailers, sending a simple but powerful message: Don’t go to the mall, spend today outside. American Eagle Outfitters’ sister lingerie brand Aerie featured untouched models in their media campaigns in an effort to combat unrealistic standards of beauty their teen audience persistently grapples with. The cultish California-based In-N-Out burger chain refuses to expand anywhere outside the range of its trusted patty making facilities and distribution centers out of its fierce commitment to freshness (from processing to being served, their burgers are never frozen). And in response to consumers having more and more choice, McDonald’s is rolling out Create Your Taste kiosks in its restaurants, allowing customers to conveniently customize premium burgers on their terms.
While some of these experiences resulted in a bigger bottom line, the longer play is that by taking a firm position based on their values, these brands are attracting new audiences and distinguishing themselves from competitors in the process. We must acknowledge the fact that that when we’re making business decisions, we’re also simultaneously making brand decisions.
Another important way to distinguish your business is to collaborate with like-minded ventures; basically, by being intentional with who your friends are. No company is an island — being part of a community can ultimately strengthen your brand, create new opportunities, and increase sales. Whether it’s a band of food trucks, a local farmer’s market, or an online market of craft makers, embracing brand cooperation and partnerships lends your brand support while providing it with a newfound presence and voice. And communal opportunities aren’t limited to the artisan entrepreneurs: Amazon’s platform catering to merchants is really one that woos customers.
An important business and brand consideration then becomes: a little bit of all or a lot of some. With whom and how you align your brand can make all the difference.
Innovation moves at the speed of technology, and its velocity is exponential. Perpetual change means that successful brands design intelligently for it over the long term. While the chessboard may be constantly moving, some principles never change. Namely, forging valuable relationships with customers. So a big part of building healthy relationships with your audience is understanding the ways they engage with your brand, formulating savvy strategy around the appropriate experiences and designing complementary executions.
If change is constant (i.e., a variable we can always expect), then focusing on your brand values and what your customers want grounds and guides the way ahead. Every brand is after eyeballs and hearts. It’s those that adopt authentic values and broker meaningful relationships, both with their customers and partners, that will become the most successful ones.
By earnestly and proudly expressing your brand values, you’ll find an audience that shares them. What do you stand for? Who are you standing with? Why? How? By examining and acting on these simple but elemental questions, brands can have a major advantage and stand out in the storefront.
Bret Janak, Creative Director, Method
Jeff Meakins, Creative Director, Method